AWS Security Blog

Top 10 security best practices for securing data in Amazon S3

With more than 100 trillion objects in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and an almost unimaginably broad set of use cases, securing data stored in Amazon S3 is important for every organization. So, we’ve curated the top 10 controls for securing your data in S3. By default, all S3 buckets are private and can be accessed only by users who are explicitly granted access through ACLs, S3 bucket policies, and identity-based policies. In this post, we review the latest S3 features and Amazon Web Services (AWS) services that you can use to help secure your data in S3, including organization-wide preventative controls such as AWS Organizations service control policies (SCPs). We also provide recommendations for S3 detective controls, such as Amazon GuardDuty for S3, AWS CloudTrail object-level logging, AWS Security Hub S3 controls, and CloudTrail configuration specific to S3 data events. In addition, we provide data protection options and considerations for encrypting data in S3. Finally, we review backup and recovery recommendations for data stored in S3. Given the broad set of use cases that S3 supports, you should determine the priority of controls applied in accordance with your specific use case and associated details.

Block public S3 buckets at the organization level

Designate AWS accounts for public S3 use and prevent all other S3 buckets from inadvertently becoming public by enabling S3 Block Public Access. Use Organizations SCPs to confirm that the S3 Block Public Access setting cannot be changed. S3 Block Public Access provides a level of protection that works at the account level and also on individual buckets, including those that you create in the future. You have the ability to block existing public access—whether it was specified by an ACL or a policy—and to establish that public access isn’t granted to newly created items. This allows only designated AWS accounts to have public S3 buckets while blocking all other AWS accounts. To learn more about Organizations SCPs, see Service control policies.

Use bucket policies to verify all access granted is restricted and specific

Check that the access granted in the Amazon S3 bucket policy is restricted to specific AWS principals, federated users, service principals, IP addresses, or VPCs that you provide. A bucket policy that allows a wildcard identity such as Principal “*” can potentially be accessed by anyone. A bucket policy that allows a wildcard action “*” can potentially allow a user to perform any action in the bucket. For more information, see Using bucket policies.

Ensure that any identity-based policies don’t use wildcard actions

Identity policies are policies assigned to AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) users and roles and should follow the principle of least privilege to help prevent inadvertent access or changes to resources. Establishing least privilege identity policies includes defining specific actions such as S3:GetObject or S3:PutObject instead of S3:*. In addition, you can use predefined AWS-wide condition keys and S3‐specific condition keys to specify additional controls on specific actions. An example of an AWS-wide condition key commonly used for S3 is IpAddress: { aws:SourceIP: “”}, where you can specify your organization’s internal IP space for specific actions in S3. See IAM.1 in Monitor S3 using Security Hub and CloudWatch Logs for detecting policies with wildcard actions and wildcard resources are present in your accounts with Security Hub.

Consider splitting read, write, and delete access. Allow only write access to users or services that generate and write data to S3 but don’t need to read or delete objects. Define an S3 lifecycle policy to remove objects on a schedule instead of through manual intervention— see Managing your storage lifecycle. This allows you to remove delete actions from your identity-based policies. Verify your policies with the IAM policy simulator. Use IAM Access Analyzer to help you identify, review, and design S3 bucket policies or IAM policies that grant access to your S3 resources from outside of your AWS account.

Enable S3 protection in GuardDuty to detect suspicious activities

In 2020, GuardDuty announced coverage for S3. Turning this on enables GuardDuty to continuously monitor and profile S3 data access events (data plane operations) and S3 configuration (control plane APIs) to detect suspicious activities. Activities such as requests coming from unusual geolocations, disabling of preventative controls, and API call patterns consistent with an attempt to discover misconfigured bucket permissions. To achieve this, GuardDuty uses a combination of anomaly detection, machine learning, and continuously updated threat intelligence. To learn more, including how to enable GuardDuty for S3, see Amazon S3 protection in Amazon GuardDuty.

Use Macie to scan for sensitive data outside of designated areas

In May of 2020, AWS re-launched Amazon Macie. Macie is a fully managed service that helps you discover and protect your sensitive data by using machine learning to automatically review and classify your data in S3. Enabling Macie organization wide is a straightforward and cost-efficient method for you to get a central, continuously updated view of your entire organization’s S3 environment and monitor your adherence to security best practices through a central console. Macie continually evaluates all buckets for encryption and access control, alerting you of buckets that are public, unencrypted, or shared or replicated outside of your organization. Macie evaluates sensitive data using a fully-managed list of common sensitive data types and custom data types you create, and then issues findings for any object where sensitive data is found.

Encrypt your data in S3

There are four options for encrypting data in S3, including client-side and server-side options. With server-side encryption, S3 encrypts your data at the object level as it writes it to disks in AWS data centers and decrypts it when you access it. As long as you authenticate your request and you have access permissions, there is no difference in the way you access encrypted or unencrypted objects.

The first two options use AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS). AWS KMS lets you create and manage cryptographic keys and control their use across a wide range of AWS services and their applications. There are options for managing which encryption key AWS uses to encrypt your S3 data.

  • Server-side encryption with Amazon S3-managed encryption keys (SSE-S3). When you use SSE-S3, each object is encrypted with a unique key that’s managed by AWS. This option enables you to encrypt your data by checking a box with no additional steps. The encryption and decryption are handled for you transparently. SSE-S3 is a convenient and cost-effective option.
  • Server-side encryption with customer master keys (CMKs) stored in AWS KMS (SSE-KMS), is similar to SSE-S3, but with some additional benefits and costs compared to SSE-S3. There are separate permissions for the use of a CMK that provide added protection against unauthorized access of your objects in S3. SSE-KMS also provides you with an audit trail that shows when your CMK was used and by whom. SSE-KMS gives you control of the key access policy, which might provide you with more granular control depending on your use case.
  • In server-side encryption with customer-provided keys (SSE-C), you manage the encryption keys and S3 manages the encryption as it writes to disks and decryption when you access your objects. This option is useful if you need to provide and manage your own encryption keys. Keep in mind that you are responsible for the creation, storage, and tracking of the keys used to encrypt each object and AWS has no ability to recover customer-provided keys if they’re lost. The major thing to account for with SSE-C is that you must provide the customer-managed key every-time you PUT or GET an object.
  • Client-side encryption is another option to encrypt your data in S3. You can use a CMK stored in AWS KMS or use a master key that you store within your application. Client-side encryption means that you encrypt the data before you send it to AWS and that you decrypt it after you retrieve it from AWS. AWS doesn’t manage your keys and isn’t responsible for encryption or decryption. Usually, client-side encryption needs to be deeply embedded into your application to work.

Protect data in S3 from accidental deletion using S3 Versioning and S3 Object Lock

Amazon S3 is designed for durability of 99.999999999 percent of objects across multiple Availability Zones, is resilient against events that impact an entire zone, and designed for 99.99 percent availability over a given year. In many cases, when it comes to strategies to back up your data in S3, it’s about protecting buckets and objects from accidental deletion, in which case S3 Versioning can be used to preserve, retrieve, and restore every version of every object stored in your buckets. S3 Versioning lets you keep multiple versions of an object in the same bucket and can help you recover objects from accidental deletion or overwrite. Keep in mind this feature has costs associated. You may consider S3 Versioning in selective scenarios such as S3 buckets that store critical backup data or sensitive data.

With S3 Versioning enabled on your S3 buckets, you can optionally add another layer of security by configuring a bucket to enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) delete. With this configuration, the bucket owner must include two forms of authentication in any request to delete a version or to change the versioning state of the bucket.

S3 Object Lock is a feature that helps you mitigate data loss by storing objects using a write-once-read-many (WORM) model. By using Object Lock, you can prevent an object from being overwritten or deleted for a fixed time or indefinitely. Keep in mind that there are specific use cases for Object Lock, including scenarios where it is imperative that data is not changed or deleted after it has been written.

Enable logging for S3 using CloudTrail and S3 server access logging

Amazon S3 is integrated with CloudTrail. CloudTrail captures a subset of API calls, including calls from the S3 console and code calls to the S3 APIs. In addition, you can enable CloudTrail data events for all your buckets or for a list of specific buckets. Keep in mind that a very active S3 bucket can generate a large amount of log data and increase CloudTrail costs. If this is concern around cost then consider enabling this additional logging only for S3 buckets with critical data.

Server access logging provides detailed records of the requests that are made to a bucket. Server access logs can assist you in security and access audits.

Backup your data in S3

Although S3 stores your data across multiple geographically diverse Availability Zones by default, your compliance requirements might dictate that you store data at even greater distances. Cross-region replication (CRR) allows you to replicate data between distant AWS Regions to help satisfy these requirements. CRR enables automatic, asynchronous copying of objects across buckets in different AWS Regions. For more information on object replication, see Replicating objects. Keep in mind that this feature has costs associated, you might consider CRR in selective scenarios such as S3 buckets that store critical backup data or sensitive data.

Monitor S3 using Security Hub and CloudWatch Logs

Security Hub provides you with a comprehensive view of your security state in AWS and helps you check your environment against security industry standards and best practices. Security Hub collects security data from across AWS accounts, services, and supported third-party partner products and helps you analyze your security trends and identify the highest priority security issues.

The AWS Foundational Security Best Practices standard is a set of controls that detect when your deployed accounts and resources deviate from security best practices, and provides clear remediation steps. The controls contain best practices from across multiple AWS services, including S3. We recommend you enable the AWS Foundational Security Best Practices as it includes the following detective controls for S3 and IAM:

IAM.1: IAM policies should not allow full “*” administrative privileges.
S3.1: Block Public Access setting should be enabled
S3.2: S3 buckets should prohibit public read access
S3.3: S3 buckets should prohibit public write access
S3.4: S3 buckets should have server-side encryption enabled
S3.5: S3 buckets should require requests to use Secure Socket layer
S3.6: Amazon S3 permissions granted to other AWS accounts in bucket policies should be restricted
S3.8: S3 Block Public Access setting should be enabled at the bucket level

For details of each control, including remediation steps, please review the AWS Foundational Security Best Practices controls.

If there is a specific S3 API activity not covered above that you’d like to be alerted on, you can use CloudTrail Logs together with Amazon CloudWatch for S3 to do so. CloudTrail integration with CloudWatch Logs delivers S3 bucket-level API activity captured by CloudTrail to a CloudWatch log stream in the CloudWatch log group that you specify. You create CloudWatch alarms for monitoring specific API activity and receive email notifications when the specific API activity occurs.


By using the ten practices described in this blog post, you can build strong protection mechanisms for your data in Amazon S3, including least privilege access, encryption of data at rest, blocking public access, logging, monitoring, and configuration checks.

Depending on your use case, you should consider additional protection mechanisms. For example, there are security-related controls available for large shared datasets in S3 such as Access Points, which you can use to decompose one large bucket policy into separate, discrete access point policies for each application that needs to access the shared data set. To learn more about S3 security, see Amazon S3 Security documentation.

Now that you’ve reviewed the top 10 security best practices to make your data in S3 more secure, make sure you have these controls set up in your AWS accounts—and go build securely!

If you have feedback about this post, submit comments in the Comments section below. If you have questions about this post, start a new thread on the Amazon S3 forum or contact AWS Support.

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Megan O’Neil

Megan is a Senior Specialist Solutions Architect focused on threat detection and incident response. Megan and her team enable AWS customers to implement sophisticated, scalable, and secure solutions that solve their business challenges.


Temi Adebambo

Temi is the Senior Manager for the America’s Security and Network Solutions Architect team. His team is focused on working with customers on cloud migration and modernization, cybersecurity strategy, architecture best practices, and innovation in the cloud. Before AWS, he spent over 14 years as a consultant, advising CISOs and security leaders at some of the largest global enterprises.